Knife expert Ernest Emerson curates your journey through the history of Indonesia's karambit. Of the many weapons fads that have come and gone, Emerson explores why these knives have stood the test of time!

How many martial arts fads have you seen come and go? Whether it's weapons, gadgets and tools or entire fighting systems, it’s rare that a fad will catch on and stick around for more than a few years. So when one does, it’s worth taking note. The karambit combat knives from Southeast Asia have the potential to be included in that elite group.


Travel back in time for Black Belt’s first in-depth look at the Indonesian martial arts with this FREE download! Pencak Silat: Techniques and History of the Indonesian Martial Arts

Brief History of the Karambit, Southeast Asia's Popular Combat Knives Over the past 4,000 years, mankind has effected thousands of variations in the design of swords, combat knives and impact weapons. The major influences in their evolutionary path are related to three triggers. The most profound one has been the discovery of new materials or the ability to process old materials into a more usable form. Human beings progressed from sharp sticks to stones, then to copper, bronze, iron and steel implements. Each discovery caused a major leap in weapon design and tactics. The second trigger has been the clash of cultures. Every time there was a physical shift of cultures — whether because of famine, natural disaster or invasion — an opportunity to learn from the successes and failures of the enemy ensued. Inevitably, each side would adapt, modify or copy the weapons and applications that appealed to its people.

Learn how martial arts weapons such as combat knives developed throughout human history in this FREE download! Hoplology: Martial Arts Weapons and How Humans Fight.

The third trigger has been invention and innovation. Whenever there was an advance in armor, weapon design or tactics, the development of the key needed to defeat it inevitably followed. Those that didn’t evolve quickly enough faded into obscurity or died off. Is it, then, safe to say that just because something has been surpassed by modern technology, it’s no longer effective? Far from it. For instance, the weapon of choice for some German street gangs is the baseball bat — which is nothing more than a club. A citizen can’t even possess one unless he’s playing baseball or on his way to or from a game. They’re restricted because they’re effective. The Design of the Karambit: Why These Combat Knives Work So Well How does all that relate to the karambit? Well, the aforementioned principles apply here as well. Consider: Why has the Japanese sword been around for more than a millennium? Why has the Nepalese kukri, or Gurkha knife, been used since the time of Alexander the Great? Why has the bow and arrow been in existence for 4,000 to 5,000 years? Because they all boast efficient designs that get the job done. The karambit is in the same boat. If the design of the karambit did not have merit, it too would have been relegated to the dustbin of history’s failures. The bottom line is, the karambit was a good knife then — and the karambit is even better now because of 21st-century manufacturing methods.

Learn how martial arts weapons such as combat knives developed throughout human history in this FREE download! Hoplology: Martial Arts Weapons and How Humans Fight.

Karambit Origins: Where Did These Popular Knives Come From? The origin of the karambit is shrouded in mystery and controversy, but it’s fairly certain that these combat knives were devised in Indonesia many centuries ago. Karambit combat knives have become popular among modern martial artists mainly because of the increasing interest practitioners are showing in the Indonesian fighting arts and the subsequent proliferation of schools that teach them — thus, karambit combat knives have started finding their way into the mainstream.
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